Making and Grinding Flour at Home: Amaranth, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Prickly Pear Cactus Seed, and Other Meals or Cereals
Making Flours and Ground Meals at Home
For whatever reason, whether people just want fresher ingredients, more variety in their diet, or perhaps they want to do their own quality control, more people are making their own flour at home. Especially for those people who want to experiment with some of the more unusual flours, such as amaranth or prickly pear cactus seed flour, or are worried about certain meals such as flaxseed going rancid, or people who simply want to control the purity of their food (many large factories may have problems with insects or rodents), for many people making ground meals and flours at home is becoming not just an experiment, but a way of life. Making your own is somewhat time-consuming, but the effort may be well-rewarded in the freshest and purest possible ground meals and flours, without any added conditioners or food preservatives. And if organic ingredients are important to you, you will have at least some control over the sources of your seeds for flour.
Why are you interested in making your own flour?
What You Need
Regardless of the kind of flour or ground meal you intend to make, (oat, amaranth, quinoa, flaxseed, prickly pear cactus seed flour, and chickpea are very popular varieties, or perhaps you want to try something else a little less common) the equipment will remain exactly the same: you need something to grind with, the seeds themselves, and an airtight container to store the finished product in. In ancient times, people ground flour between two stones (in my part of the world called a metate), and this can still be done, using a stone plate and a stone. You will get a real workout doing this by hand, but if you intend to grind seeds or grains without using electricity or water power, this is the sole way to accomplish this with only manual labour. If you plan on the experiment, start with a very small quantity of material, and see how long it takes you. Factor in your tiredness, and you will have a good idea of how long it will take for grinding your flour by hand. You'll also have an appreciation for all the countless generations of people who ground their grain this way!
Home Grinding Mills
A grinding mill is the easiest way for novices to begin to make their own flours and meals. You should choose a grinder that does not get too hot, or you will end up with a mess and possibly a burnt-out motor. Mills come in hand-cranked versions, standalone grinders, and attachments for your stand mixer. Fortunately, without a motor, the hand-cranked mills will not overheat. Blenders and coffee mills are not suitable for grinding flours and meals because they just don't have enough power, so you will need your own equipment. A few varieties of seeds can be very carefully ground in a food processor (but you must pulse it, otherwise, it will turn into a seed butter).
Whether you use a hand-powered mill, an electric-powered mill, or a grinding stone, the process is the same. You will use either crushing or cutting pressure to open the seeds, and then work them to get a fine powder to use in cooking and baking. Don't grind too fine, or you may end up with a "seed butter," very similar to peanut butter. (You may be familiar with tahini, a sesame seed butter.) Machines vary widely, and to get the fineness of flour you want may take several passes (with subsequent grindings on finer settings, if you have an adjustable machine). Mills with adjustable settings are highly recommended if you want fine flour for cakes and pastries.
Barley and Oats
What Seeds Can I Make into Flour?
Basically, any kind of seed or cereal can be ground into flour. While most of us are familiar with wheat, any number of seeds can be made into flour, and each of those kinds of seeds have unique nutritional benefits:
- Khorasan wheat, sold under the KAMUT brand name, is an ancient variety of wheat which is higher in protein than modern commercially available wheats.
- Rye seeds are high in protein fiber, and especially in lignans, which act as powerful antioxidants. Rye is lower in gluten than wheat, and may be better tolerated by gluten-sensitive individuals.
- Barley has eight essential amino acids, and can regulate blood sugar for up to ten hours after eating barley. Barley must be hulled before being eaten or ground into grain, but pearl barley has the bran (the most nutritious part) removed.
- Quinoa is another high-protein food, which has an unpleasant soapy outer coating. If you are buying unprocessed quinoa, soak it first (the soaking water may be saved to make shampoo or a liquid suitable for cleaning clothing). Processed quinoa ready for consumption will have the soapy coating removed.
- Buckwheat is high in protein and amino acids, and is free of gluten. In addition to the familiar buckwheat pancakes, it can also be baked into bread or prepared as buckwheat noodles.
- Oats can be ground into flour and used for baking, especially in cookies. Oat proteins are nearly equivalent to meat, dairy and egg proteins, and therefore are useful to people following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
- Amaranth is rapidly gaining popularity thanks to its extremely high protein content and essential amino acids such as lysine. Amaranth also contains a high amount of dietary fiber and is rich in dietary minerals, and amaranth flour is free of gluten.
- Flaxseed is becoming more popular, because of its high protein content and high omega-3 oil content (similar to salmon and other fatty cold-water fish). Flax seed is one of the best meals to grind yourself, as it is best ground just before use. Flax seed when ground can go rancid in as little as one week, and so it is worth grinding at home. (You can store whole flax seed almost indefinitely, so go ahead and buy the whole seeds in bulk.)
- Spelt contains gluten, and is therefore suitable for baking. An ancient wheat hybrid, spelt contains high levels of niacin, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, and is very popular for its many health benefits because of its high vitamin and dietary mineral content.
- Teff, although it contains gluten, is suitable for consumption by most people who are on gluten-free diets, because the form of gluten is different from that found in wheat. Teff is high in protein and calcium, and contains all eight essential amino acids, as well as exceptionally high levels of lysine and dietary fibre.
- Sesame seeds are high in iron, magnesium, and calcium, have almost twenty-five per cent protein, have a good amount of vitamin B-6, and of course, they taste delicious! If your family is averse to trying new kinds of flours, sesame flour might be the ideal way to introduce family members to new tastes.
- Chickpea (garbanzo) flour is very popular in Italy, especially used to make crusts for pizza. Garbanzo beans are very high in potassium, and are a good source of many other essential minerals. This is also one of the oldest cultivated legumes in history, so if you want to experiment with a return to a more primitive diet, chickpeas are the way to go! They are also easy to grow and harvest, even in a confined space.
Without the normal amounts and kinds of preservatives that are typically added to commercial flours, rancidity can be a real problem. You will want to keep your freshly-ground meal or flour in an airtight container, and store it in a cool place even if you plan to use it soon. In my case, I usually grind more than I need, and I store mine in leftover glass jars in the freezer, but any airtight storage container in the freezer will work (I use glass as the contents are less likely to pick up "off" odors from other things in the freezer). If you store your flour at room temperature, you can very likely, depending on the type of seed, get by with a few weeks, but any longer than that and the freezer is your best option.
There are several benefits to grinding your own meals and flours at home.
- You will be living more sustainably, because you are producing the flour, rather than consuming resources to buy already-ground flour.
- You will have the freshest ingredients and the highest purity of ingredients. Especially if you live in the United States, you may be astonished (or even horrified) by the federally allowable number of insect parts, rodent droppings, and other foreign substances in flour.
- You will have access to all kinds of meals and flours that are not commercially available: amaranth flour, prickly pear cactus seed flour, barley flour, millet flour, oat flour, and more, and grinding your own seed is certainly necessary if you grow these plants yourself.
- The grains will retain more of their nutrients because they are being stored whole until just before they are needed.
- You will have the best-tasting breads and baked goods you can imagine, because you are using the freshest and purest ingredients.